Release Date: Feb 7th, 2012
Label: Polyvinyl Records
At the very core of an album review is the examination of the choices made by the artist or band. When an artist makes art of any kind, they’re forced to make countless creative decisions, some small, some significant, until they have a final product that fans and critics can put under the microscope. of Montreal is no different, but they’ve always been a tough band to pin down and critique because over their eleven full-length LP career, their artistic choices have evolved album to album. On top of that, most of their albums, including their newest release, Paralytic Stalks, layer hundreds of choices on top of each other, making it nearly impossible to separate the pleasurable moments from the ones a critic or fan might disagree with.
The biggest problem with Paralytic Stalks is that very few listeners will like the album on a first or second listen. It’s packed with complicated lyrical content, songs that turn on themselves within seconds of turning on themselves, and long, experimental orchestral sections that may cause fatigue at the end of the record. It’s a difficult, some might say problematic listen. And yet, as you continue to explore Paralytic Stalks, if you choose to do so, these “problems” slowly become the most appealing aspects of the album.
On Paralytic Stalks, Barnes delivers some of the best vocal moments in his eleven-album career. He’s aggressive and expressive; angry bites blend with supreme confidence and conviction in each line he delivers. Barnes slips in and out of gentle steadiness (perhaps best displayed on “Malefic Dowery”) and controlled madness (exemplified in album closer “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission”) in a way that’s nothing short of impressive. There are times when Barnes is so invested in delivering his message that his voice consumes itself, only to have a new vocal section burst out and take over.
Choices. Hundreds of choices. It’s easy for me to pick out the ones that Barnes made on Paralytic Stalks that put a bad taste in my mouth. The underwater-sounding spoken word section that kicks off the record gave me horrible flashbacks to the dull spoken sections of thecontrollersphere. The experimental track “Exorcismic Breeding Knife” is extremely testing and seems to draw out for longer than what is manageable. Yeah, two complaints about Barnes’ choices. The album has hundreds of them.
If I can pass on one main thought about Paralytic Stalks, it would be that Barnes has created an album that will be perfect to nobody. He plays with so many different sensibilities and throws so many songwriting curveballs – any type of listener will find both moments of enjoyment and moments of irritation to match. I find this fascinating because aside from the general consensuses that “Exorcismic Breeding Knife” is longwinded, critics and fans have clashing ideas of what the high and low points of the album are.
And yet Paralytic Stalks is anything but thematically disjointed. The whole album is Barnes smashing his brain against the general concept of humanity and the difficult questions of life that don’t have answers. He is frustrated that he has so many complaints and so few solutions, and offers wry commentary on complaining about such complaints. Paralytic Stalks is an album that lives in that strange moment where humans become grandiose in their own thoughts. We’ve all had times where we’ve blurred our surroundings and contemplated life and its complications, only to snap out of the trance and return to routine until that next moment of impossible examination. Barnes lives in moments like these throughout Paralytic Stalks and if you join him it can be uncomfortable, demanding, intense, and extremely rewarding.